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Final Table Takedown: Matt Berkey Shares How to Use Past History to Evaluate an Opponent and Some Mistakes Made in Game Flow

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Feb 17, 2016

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Matt BerkeyMatt Berkey was born and raised in Leechburg, PA and presently resides in Las Vegas. Since 2003, he has been playing and profiting as a professional poker player. He began beating the $1-$2 no-limit and $2-$5 no-limit games while earning his B.S. in Computer Science from Gannon University.

Today he can be found playing as high as $300-$600$1,200 no-limit in Ivey’s Room at Aria. In addition to his impressive track record as a live cash player, Berkey has amassed more than $2.6 million in combined live and online tournament cashes. Berkey’s success is a direct product of being a student of the game, with many hours spent studying game theory and analyzing his opponents’ play, which has all correlated directly into a profitable career. Check out Berkey’s blog at http://thevoicewithin.me/.

Event: 2015 Aria High Roller XX
Players: 39
Entry: $25,000
First Prize: $315,180
Finish: 1st

Key Concepts: Range assessment, Consciousness of our perceived range, Using prior history to our advantage

Craig Tapscott: Please set up the table for our readers.

Matt Berkey: We had been playing five-handed most of the first two levels, then Scott Seiver was seated to my direct left and Sean Winter was seated two to my right. This is Winter’s first hand at the table and he is in the big blind. To my knowledge, this was also his third entry, which may or may not be a factor worth considering, but I did note it at the time.

Berkey limps in holding AClub Suit 10Club Suit.

CT: So why the limp?

MB: I had been opening a fair amount when we were five-handed. But I think now with Seiver to my left and being seven-handed, this is as good of a time as any to begin constructing a limp range.

Seiver limps from the hijack. Paur limps from the button. Sippl completes from the small blind. Winter raises to 6,800 from the big blind.

CT: So what’s going through you head holding the suited ace?

MB: Let’s dissect the current dynamic at the table and start with my limp. I have played a fair amount with Seiver, but mostly very high stakes cash games, so I was a bit uncertain of his plan of attack with me to his right, being that we’re both extremely active players. By starting with a limp, I thought I would be able to decipher if he planned to go to war with me, attacking at all costs, or play along and allow himself to just take flops in position, knowing I’d remain active regardless. I had no experience with Paur prior to this day so, again, I hoped to decipher how he would proceed given the now-growing amount of money in the pot. When all players involved chose to proceed in a straightforward dynamic, I wasn’t surprised in the least to see Winter take the lead.

CT: Do you have some history with him?

MB: My past experience was a few hours of playing with him on my left in a $10-$25 cash game, where being the table captain was seemingly the only mission he hoped to accomplish. We butted heads often and I was fortunate to have the top of my range in the majority of the large pots we played. My view of him is that he attacks what he perceives as weakness, regardless of his own image, position, or ability of players he’s up against.

CT: So you’re obviously not folding?

MB: Generally in these spots against hyper-aggressive players, I tend to take the mindset of forcing them to show me the top of their range. In my opinion, he’s just far too wide here to just surrender both position and hand value in a spot where I feel I have a profound post-flop edge. So yes, I elected to call, anticipating the pot getting heads-up.

Berkey calls. Seiver folds. Paur folds. Sippl folds.

Flop: 10Spade Suit 6Club Suit 3Heart Suit (pot: 17,200)

Winter bets 8,000.

CT: Easy call, right? Considering your plan?

MB: I’m pretty resigned to calling here unless I’m okay with capping my range and playing for stacks. Capping my range and opening Winter up to take advantage of the fact that I shouldn’t have a hand worthy of playing for stacks in this spot is a fairly reasonable way to invoke a light three-bet shove. However, being that the board is so incredibly dry, I don’t think Winter would lead/three-bet widely enough, as now my range is fairly transparent to being one pair or sets; putting his holdings in a way ahead, way behind spot. So I…

Berkey calls.

Turn: QHeart Suit (pot: 33,200)

Winter bet 22,000.

CT: How do you feel about the queen?

MB: The queen of hearts is a very pivotal card. Given the dry nature of the flop and my perception that Winter was isolating fairly widely, his range advantage was about neutral. The queen greatly sways range advantage in his favor. Being aware of this, I anticipated a second barrel, as he’ll often improve to top pair, top set, backdoor straight draws, or backdoor flush draws.

CT: And what about the bet sizing he pushed out?

MB: True. The sizing was very telling to me. It’s a max-pressure bet, setting up for a river shove of equally high pressure. Being that we had little experience together, at no point did I think he saw me as the type to play hero on multiple streets, so if this bet is for value, why make it so impossible for jacks or worse to continue? Particularly in a spot where I’m very rarely going to have floats in my range that merely have turned drawing equity. That being said, I think his hands of equity plus stone bluffs are equal in ratio to the top of his range, that he has just chosen to play this way. Therefore, I can’t profitably shove. We’re still deep enough where preserving 65 blinds and opening myself up to potentially being bluffed on the river is the preferred play over just ending the decision tree here on the turn.

Berkey calls.

River: 2Spade Suit (pot: 77,200)

Winter moves all in for 59,900.

CT: You expected this?

MB: Yes. I anticipated this and am thrilled to at least have a clean river (5-4 completes, but is a hand I discredited, as I think only 5Heart Suit 4Heart Suit bets the turn).

CT: So what’s the range you have him on for this shove for value?

MB: Well, I needed time to reevaluate that range. Given the action up until this point, it would seem to have to be A-A, A-Q, K-K, K-Q, Q-J, Q-10, and possibly some sets, though the turn action doesn’t seem in line with sets. I block A-A, A-Q, 10-10, and Q-10. Also, I think we’d only see the suited version of Q-10. I need some time to think it through.

CT: So you’re tanking?

MB: Yes. I even elected to use one of the optional time bank cards, earning an additional minute of time on top of the allotted 45 seconds. Upon throwing the timecard forward I noticed a reaction out of Winter, seemingly mistaking the timecard for calling chips. In the moment I deciphered it as nervousness. Couple that with what seems to be very few hands he could take this line with for value, I eventually decided to…

Berkey calls.

MB: Sean did not table his hand and claimed A-10. I then tabled A-10 and he mucked. The dealer retrieved the cards and showed his 9Club Suit 7Club Suit.

Berkey wins the pot of 197,000.

Key Concepts: Opponent’s image, Stack sizes, Compounding mistakes

CT: Same tablemates?

BM: Well, Seiver had busted and rejoined at another table; Winter had rebought and was now on my direct left with about 200,000. I’ll start this off by saying that in this hand I would like to highlight the multitude of mistakes I made, despite ultimately winning the hand. I had KSpade Suit QSpade Suit in the cutoff and the chip lead.

Berkey raises to 10,000 from the cutoff.

MB: Winter has around 200,000 on the button, Paur about 80,000 in the small blind, and Sippl has 200,000 in the big blind.

CT: So you’re very cognizant of the stack sizes behind you?

BM: Yes. In the moment, I was focused on Paur’s re-shove stack and the fact that Sippl called too liberally from the big blind, as well as the fact that we were five-handed. So K-Q suited in the cutoff suddenly felt like aces. I ignored that Winter was a real consideration; being overly active himself and sitting with 50 big blinds, I should have anticipated that he would three-bet appropriately, at the very least.

Winter raises to 27,000 from the button.

CT: What now? Does K-Q suited still look like aces?

MB: There are very few hands I perceive to be too good to fold, too good to turn into a bluff, yet too bad to get it all in with; K-Q suited is precisely that hand. I’ve now put myself in what seems to be a simple call, and reevaluate spot. However, being a bit chip drunk and overly considering Winter’s image of being wild, I elected to remain aggressive and ultimately play for stacks with my hand.

Berkey raises to 65,000.

MB: My thinking was that with this sizing it leaves a fair amount of wiggle room for me to be four-bet folding. I thought perhaps he’d level himself and shove widely, while flatting the top of his range in order to keep my air in. The flaw in this thinking is that hands like A-K and A-Q suited are hands that dominate me, but aren’t necessarily strong enough to trap with. Therefore, even if I’m correct, he still should be shoving those hands just to round out his ranges. I very much had the mindset that I needed to play these large, pivotal pots in order to give myself a shot in such a tough field. So the idea of four-bet folding was out of the question, which blinded me to the mistake I was making in the moment.

Winter moves all in. Berkey calls. Winter reveals ADiamond Suit KDiamond Suit.

MB: Ugh!

Flop: QDiamond Suit 3Spade Suit 5Club Suit (pot: 407,500)

Turn: 7Spade Suit

River: 2Club Suit  

Berkey wins the pot of 407,500.

MB: As you can see, that’s why I started out saying I was going to review my mistakes in this hand. I suddenly had about 20 percent of the chips in play. The rest of the event went very smoothly and I never relinquished the chip lead.

CT: What did you take away from this hand that will stick with you in similar situations in the future?

MB: I think the main takeaway is to maintain an anticipatory mindset when taking any action at the table. Had I not allowed Winter’s three-bet to catch me off guard, I would have made an adjustment somewhere in the hand. Also, succumbing to Winter’s image and overvaluing a hand unworthy of playing for stacks was an emotional reaction to, again, being ill prepared to combat against his aggression. ♠